Goose's idea for a series of posts about MTV videos from the 80s tickled my fancy while it reclined lazily in the wheelhouse at the end of my alley. I grew up with MTV and loved it like I eventually would love masturbation.
Which is, to say, quite a bit.
You can check out Goose's list here.
I'll forever have fond memories of AL TV (event television), Remote Control (I'll go to my grave convinced that Ober was somehow banging the delectable Kari Wuhrer), and the Friday Night Video Fights (hey, someone had to help Duran Duran's "The Reflex" set a record by winning 13 weeks in a row by calling a 1-800 #).
We could probably write a thousand posts about the batshit crazy ideas that bands (and their hair stylists) came up with. But a thousand posts sounds like a lot of work.
How about just the one to tide you over?
I really wanted to avoid some of the videos that are immediately, knee-jerkedly associated with MTV in the 80s. Sledgehammer, Thriller, Kokomo, etc., Those have earned their place in the pantheon. Nor did I want to go super obscure, like say "Dog Police" (I dare you to watch this and not have this chorus stuck in your head the rest of the day):
So here are 3 of the 80siest videos that I loved as a kid, straight from the sweet spot midway between obvious & obscure. And each represents a stylistic archetype used extensively by other bands.
Just Plain Weird
"Hey Pretentious Director Guy, Why is the Blue Fruit Wearing a Green Barrel Featured So Prominently in Our Video? High Quality Coke Became Really Easy to Smuggle Into the US in the 1980s? Right-o."
I like this song, but the video is dystopian nightmare. I think the gist is that the red footless guy sitting on the ledge is watching New Order on his head screen and can somehow control the action in the arena. In the beginning he tilts the screen and the 3 striped dudes fall down the stairs from the street. After running backwards. Yep, it all makes sense now. Wait... Nope, no it doesn't. It never does.
Actually, the biggest surprise from this video is that, to my knowledge, New Order has never taken legal action against Cirque Du Soleil. I'm pretty sure that without this profoundly absurd video, I never would have paid $75 for 90 minutes of wonderful whimsy, whimsical wonder, and 9-year old Chinese girls juggling mustachioed French acrobats with their feet. Thanks a lot, New Order.
Other items to note:
- I didn't realize Bruce Campbell did a stint drumming for New Order.
- Who's the woman they keep showing? Is she in the band? All the shots of her are too tight to tell what purpose she serves. I guess she's playing keyboards. Or keeping a look out for the guy in the barrel.
- According to a renowned sign language expert, the Spinning Turtle Woman is signing a scene from the syndicated version of "It's a Living" where Sonny got hemorrhoids, so Jillian had to fill in for him.
- I know the cube represents America, the ball represents homelessness, but I'm stumped about the cone. Maybe inflation?
- The footless red dude scampers around the arena like Midnight Thud (as portrayed by The Haiti Kid) in Penitentiary III. Minus the billy club and wrestling talent, of course.
The 4-Minute Cinematic Masterpiece
"We Gotta Have a Plot. We're a Serious Band and We Should Be Serious About Something. Seriously."
Like running backs from USC, linebackers from Penn State, and motile sperm from Travis Henry's vas deferens, few organizations have been as productive as Genesis when it comes to successful solo careers. Everyone knows about Phil Collins, and most music fans know that Peter Gabriel was a founding member of the band. Not remembered as fondly or as often are Mike + The Mechanics. They were founding Genesis bassist Mike Rutherford's solo project. This was his ticket out of listening to Collins talk endlessly about how big "Buster" was in Australia.
The odds of the drummer hitting it big are high, but the bassist? Vegas has permanently taken that one off the boards.
While they didn't have prolonged success, Mike + The Mechanics had several Top 10 hits, including a #1 with "The Living Years" (an infinitesimally edgier version of Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is").
I remember watching "Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)" as a youth and really wanting to find out what happens after the boy is beamed up to be with his dad. The video plays like a setup for a syndicated show with low production values but lots of heart. At the absolute minimum, I expected future Mechanics videos to continue the plotline.
I did some digging and the background on the storyline confusing. The video features a few clips from a movie called (in the UK) "On Dangerous Ground" ("Choke Canyon" in the US), but the video's central plot has absolutley nothing to do with the movie. With me? Good.
Other items of note:
- That's the saddest birthday party ever.
- Sorry, sister who's shown only briefly during the sad birthday party. Your space-traveling father doesn't give a shit about you. Stop crying about it and clean up the party hats and cake.
- Gotta shoehorn the band in somehow, even if it's via some 1985 bleeding edge TRS-80 computer graphics.
- Um, if Ron Wood shows up to give me a key during my sad birthday party, I will be too busy shitting myself to hold on to the key. Plus my hands would be slippery from all of my shit.
- The lyrics seem to be advice ("Take the children and yourself and hide out in the cellar...", "Don't believe in the church and state and everything they tell you...") given by a husband to his wife during wartime. Why is the bass player from Genesis so grim? Lighten up, dude. You're having a hit outside of Genesis. It won't last, so enjoy it.
- That kid never noticed the one door he wasn't allowed into and that it glowed sometimes? Would it have killed the mom to put the cube in a box and throw it a closet next to the Christmas presents?
- How the hell is an 8-year old boy going to help his father in whatever space adventures he's having? I'm convinced that this is all an elaborate scheme cooked up by some kind of Galactic NAMBLA organization.
- Paul Carrack sings lead on this, and he's had a pretty interesting career. Besides this, and a mildly successful solo career, he's been a member of Roxy Music & Squeeze ("Tempted"). He's been a session musician or backing band member for Nick Lowe, John Hiatt, The Smiths, & The Pretenders. He also co-wrote a song for the re-formed Eagles which "won an award as being the most-played single in America in 1995". That sounds both vague and dubious but it was on Wikipedia, so it must be true.
The Band As Guardian Angels
"We Have Magic Powers and Will Fight For the Downtrodden Youth.
Hey Viewer, You're a Downtrodden Youth. You Should Identify With This Video and Buy Our Album."
As Goose mentioned in his list, many a 70s rock band decided they better reinvent themselves for the MTV era or start learning carny speak. I don't think any band did a better job of that than ZZ Top. They certainly had a unique "look", but their music wasn't MTV-ready. Beyond updating their sound, they needed a hook for the videos. A saucy take on the Cinderella legend spruced up with hot rods, hot chicks, and cool special effects did the trick.
These kind of videos represented the ego trips for the band. They can bend the rules of time & space with the power of their rock, and they use those powers to liberate the overworked and underappreciated proletariat. For more examples, please refer to Sister, Twisted. Oh, and Oswalt, Patton.
Other items of note:
- They get away with saying "shit" in a Top 10 hit song whose video was played non-stop on basic cable. Then again, they used to show Animal House unedited on my local independent station.It was a simpler time.
- The mincing gay guy from the hair salon (as evidenced by his neckerchief and the fact that he works in a hair salon) wasn't allowed to see ZZinderella's boobs. Gay and deprived of boobs? That guy just can't catch a break.
- Space Invaders! That game was the shit back in the day. I still remember walking to the top of Stone Mountain (the Southern Mount Rushmore) on a field trip and finding to my delight that the snack bar had a Space Invaders machine.
- 20+ years later, those fuzzy spinning guitars still look cool.
- Upside of being a ZZ Top hot chick minion:
- You're hot.
- You apparently have free rein to do whatever kind of makeover your heart desires. The band trusts your judgment.
- You can get in the face of the local douches
- You have full access to all stores in a strip mall via a magical rear door.
- The non-douche locals will protect you from the local douches.
- You never have to pay for anything in the strip mall.
- You get to have 4-way sex with the hot non-douche local. Sorry, fat non-douche local.
- Downside of being a ZZ Top hot chick minion:
- Even with all that freedom, you're still a minion.
- Job security is pretty shaky, judging by the high turnover rate. Forget about trying to unionize.
- I can't imagine that they get any kind of health or retirement benefits. They're probably hired as independent contractors in whatever bus station or pool hall they were hanging out in.
- The story line gets real shaky at the end. ZZinderella gets her makeover and the short order cook of her dreams, and she was given the key to the hot rod earlier in the video. One would assume the she and her new boyfriend would, minimally, get a seat in the hot rod as it drives off into thin air. Nope, the 2 of them get into the back seat of what looks like a dune buggy driven by some guy we've never seen. Zuh? Did he just happen to be driving by and figure he'd give a ride to these 2 love birds? When did anyone have time to call the guy in the dune buggy? So many questions...
- You have to choose between 2 life paths of characters in "Legs":
Option A: The scrawny short order cook who gets a serious, possibly long-term love interest who's out of his league with minimal effort. She's been kicked in the butt by life so many times, the occasional smile or complement will basically make her your love slave.
Option B: The beefed-up Foxworthy dude who presumably gets to nail the 3 hot chick minions. But... He's abandoned somewhere in the desert after the last one gets her rocks off.
Gun to your head, which would you rather be? Discuss.